9:41 Go forth to war, whether it be easy or difficult [for you],65 and strive hard in God’s cause with your possessions and your lives: this is for your own good -if you but knew it!
This, to my mind, is the key phrase of the above ordinance. The term “apostle” is obviously used here in its generic sense and applies to all the prophets on whose teachings the beliefs of the Jews and the Christians are supposed to be based – in particular, to Moses and (in the case of the Christians) to Jesus as well (Manar X, 333 and 337). Since, earlier in this sentence, the people alluded to are accused of so grave a sin as wilfully refusing to believe in God and the Last Day (i.e., in life after death and man’s individual responsibility for his doings on earth), it is inconceivable that they should subsequently be blamed for comparatively minor offences against their religious law: consequently, the stress on their “not forbidding that which God and His apostle have forbidden” must refer to something which is as the grave, or almost as a grave, as disbelief in God. In the context of an ordinance enjoining war against them. this “something” can mean only one thing – namely, unprovoked aggression: for it is this that has been forbidden by God through all the apostles who were entrusted with conveying His message to man. Thus, the above verse must be understood as a call to the believers to fight against such – and only such – of the nominal followers of earlier revelation as denying their own professed beliefs by committing aggression against the followers of the Qur’an (cf. Manar X, 338).
9:42 Had there been [a prospect of] immediate gain, and an easy journey, they would certainly have followed thee, [O Prophet:] but the distance was too great for them. And yet, [after your return, O believers,] they will swear by God, “Had we been able to do so, we would certainly have set out with you!” – [and by thus falsely swearing] they will be destroying their own selves: for God knows indeed that they are lying!
See in this connection the statement (in 5:13-14) that the Jews and the Christians “have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind”.
9:43 May God pardon thee [O Prophet]! Why didst thou grant them permission [to stay at home] ere it had become obvious to thee as to who was speaking the truth, and [ere] thou camest to know [who were] the liars?
Sc., “and having become incorporated in the Islamic state”. The term jizyah, rendered by me as “exemption tax”, occurs in the Qur’an only once, but its meaning and purpose have been fully explained in many authentic Traditions. It is intimately bound up with the concept of the Islamic state as an ideological organization: and this is a point that must always be borne in mind if the real purport of this tax is to be understood. In the Islamic state, every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to take up arms in jihad (i.e., in a just war in God’s cause) whenever the freedom of his faith or the political safety of his community is imperiled: in other words, every able-bodied Muslim is liable to compulsory military service. Since this is, primarily, a religious obligation, non-Muslim citizens, who do not subscribe to the ideology of Islam, cannot in fairness be expected to assume a similar burden. On the other hand, they must be accorded full protection of all their civic rights and of their religious freedom: and it is in order to compensate the Muslim community for this unequal distribution of civic burdens that a special tax is levied on non-Muslim citizens (ahl adh-dhimmah, lit., “covenanted” [or “protected”] people”, i.e., non-Muslims whose safety is statutorily assured by the Muslim community). Thus, jizyah is no more and no less than an exemption tax in lieu of military service and in compensation for the “covenant of protection” (dhimmah) accorded to such citizens by the Islamic state. (The term itself is derived from the verb jazd, “he rendered [something] as a satisfaction”, or “as a compensation [in lieu of something else]” – cf. Lane II, 422.) No fixed rate has been set either by the Qur’an or by the Prophet for this tax; but from all available traditions, it is evident that it is to be considerably lower than the tax called zakah (“the purifying dues”) to which Muslims are liable and which – because it is a specifically Islamic religious duty – is naturally not to be levied on non-Muslims. Only such of non-Muslim citizens who, if they were Muslims, would be expected to serve in the armed forces of the state are liable to the payment of jizyah, provided that they can easily afford it. Accordingly, all non-Muslim citizens whose personal status or condition would automatically free them from the obligation to render military service are statutory – that is, on the basis of clear-cut ordinances promulgated by the Prophet – exempted from the payment of jizyah: (a) all women, (b) males who have not yet reached full maturity, (c) old men, (d) all sick or crippled men, (e) priests, and monks. All non-Muslim citizens who volunteer for military service are obviously exempted from the payment of jizyah. My rendering of the expression ‘an yad (lit., “out of hand”) as “with a willing hand”, that is, without reluctance, is based on one of several explanations offered by Zamakhshari in his commentary on the above verse. Rashid Rida’, taking the word yad in its metaphorical significance of “power” or “ability”, relates the phrase can yad to the financial ability of the person liable to the payment of jizyah (see Manar X, 342): an interpretation which is undoubtedly justified in view of the accepted definition of this tax.
9:44 Those who [truly] believe in God and the Last Day do not ask thee for exemption from struggling with their possessions and their lives [in God’s cause] – and God has full knowledge as to who is conscious of Him.
This statement is connected with the preceding verse, which speaks of the erring followers of earlier revelation. The charge of shirk (“the ascribing of divinity [or “divine qualities”] to aught beside God”) is leveled against both the Jews and the Christians in amplification, as it were, of the statement that they “do not follow the religion of truth [which God has enjoined upon them]”.
As regards the belief attributed to the Jews that Ezra (or, in the Arabicized form of this name, ‘Uzayr) was “God’s son”, it is to be noted that almost all classical commentators of the Qur’an agree in that only the Jews of Arabia, and not all Jews, have been thus accused. (According to a Tradition on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas – quoted by Tabari in his commentary on this verse – some of the Jews of Medina once said to Muhammad, “How could we follow thee when thou hast forsaken our qiblah and dost not consider Ezra a son of God?”) On the other hand, Ezra occupies a unique position in the esteem of all Jews and has always been praised by them in the most extravagant terms. It was he who restored and codified the Torah after it had been lost during the Babylonian Exile, and “edited” it in more or less the form which it has today; and thus “he promoted the establishment of an exclusive, legalistic type of religion that became dominant in later Judaism” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1963, vol. IX, p. 15). Ever since then he has been venerated to such a degree that his verdicts on the Law of Moses have come to be regarded by the Talmudists as being practically equivalent to the Law itself: which, in Qur’anic ideology, amounts to the unforgivable sin of shirk, inasmuch as it implies the elevation of a human being to the status of a quasi-divine law-giver and the blasphemous attribution to him – albeit metaphorically – of the quality of “sonship” in relation to God. Cf. in this connection Exodus iv, 22-23 (“Israel is My son”) or Jeremiah xxxi, 9 (“I am a father to Israel”): expressions to which, because of their idolatrous implications, the Qur’an takes strong exception.
9:45 Only those ask thee for exemption who do not [truly] believe in God and the Last Day and whose hearts have become a prey to doubt, so that in their doubt they waver between one thing and another.
My interpolation, between brackets, of the words “they deserve the imprecation” is based on Zamakhshari’s and Razi’s convincing interpretation of this phrase. Originally, the Arabs used the expression “may God destroy him” in the sense of a direct imprecation; but already in pre-Qur’anic Arabic it had assumed the character of an idiomatic device meant to circumscribe anything that is extremely strange or horrifying: and, according to many philologists, “this, rather than its literal meaning, is the purport [of this phrase] here” (Manor X, 399).
9:46 For, had they been [truly] desirous of setting out [with thee], they would surely have made some preparation therefor: but God was averse to their taking the field, and so He caused them to hold back when it was said, “[You may] stay at home with all [the others] who stay at home.”
9:47 Had these [hypocrites] set out with you, [O believers,] they would have added nothing to you save the evil of corruption, and would surely have scurried to and fro in your midst, seeking to stir up discord among you, seeing that there are in your midst such as would have lent them ear: but God has full knowledge of the evildoers.
9:48 Indeed, even before this time have they tried to stir up discord and devised all manner of plots against thee, [O Prophet,] until the truth was revealed and God’s will became manifest, however hateful this may have been to them.
Lit., “with their mouths” – an allusion to the “sayings” (i.e., beliefs).
9:49 And among them there was [many a one] who said, “Grant me permission [to remain at home], and do not put me to too hard a test!” Oh, verily, [by making such a request] they had [already failed in their test and] succumbed to a temptation to evil: and, behold, hell will indeed encompass all who refuse to acknowledge the truth!
Lit., “except (ills) that He bring His light to completion”, or “to perfection”. The expression “for He has willed” (i.e., contrary to what the erring ones want), is here elliptically implied by means of the particle ills.
9:50 Should good fortune alight on thee, [O Prophet,] it will grieve them; and should misfortune befall thee, they will say [to themselves], “We have already taken our precautions beforehand!” – and will turn away, and will rejoice.
Cf. 3:19 – “the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him”.